Japanese Life Expectancy May Be Overstated due to Zombies

Via Watts Up With That:

In another example of vital statistics being grossly distorted by a combination of poor record keeping and possibly people with a selfish agenda, it is being reported in the Guardian and elsewhere that possibly hundreds of thousands of people over age 100 in Japan are actually dead, but unreported. Investigations are now underway to determine how much of this problem is due to record keeping problems and how much to family members failing to report the deaths of their elderly relatives in order to continue to collect their pension benefits by fraudulent means.

There are more than 77,000 Japanese citizens reported to be over age 120, and even 884 persons AGED OVER 150 YEARS OF AGE, who are still alive according to government rolls.

While we in the US wouldn't bat an eye if we heard this story coming out of the Chicago area of Cook County, Illinois, given the number of dead people still actively voting in elections there, there are at least 230,000 people in Japan over age 100 who simply cannot be located by any means. This large centenarian population is largely responsible for the very high average life expectancy in Japan (currently listed by the World Bank as 82.6 years, more than four years greater than the US average of 78.4 years (this is including dead voters in Chicago)), as well as any senior citizens under 100 who are actually dead but have not been reported as such on government records.


  1. caseyboy:

    That is why it is dangerous to use "global" statistics when setting policy. Consistency in definitions, measurement methodologies, compliance and even motives can generate disparate results.

  2. Mesa Econoguy:

    What is the Japanese equivalent of the Democratic Party?

  3. Blackadder:

    Interesting. But but Asians tend to have high longevity in other places as well (e.g. Singapore, Asians in the U.S., etc.) so I doubt that this is really the cause of the difference.

  4. Noumenon:

    I think there is some innumeracy going on here, as 230,000 people are not going to move the life expectancy of 127 million people by four years. There is also some illiteracy, as the original article says these people aren't counted in life expectancy stats at all.

    I could believe that cheating at the high end could raise the mean age at death if someone showed me the math, or a widespread cultural thing, but I think Wattsupwiththat kind of jumped the gun.

  5. Eric Hammer:

    Those over 100 probably are not driving the 4 year difference, you are correct. However, it probably points to a larger problem in general. I don't know what the usual retirement for pension/benefits age is over there, but you can probably assume there are quite a few 70 - 90 year olds who also died a few decades back that no one reported. I think all the people over 100 years old are just what got noticed, like the small pile of sawdust in your shed that leads you to realize you have carpenter bees eating it away. 230,000 dead people >100 years old probably accompanies 1-2 million dead people between retirement age and 99.

  6. epobirs:

    This isn't the first time Japan has produce distorted stats. There was a longtime belief that they were somehow far less prone to cancer and that we could learn something from their dietary habits. It turns out that it was very common for Japanese doctors not to inform their patient that they were terminally ill if there was little to be done about it. It was considered better to allow them to seemingly die of natural causes than to deliver the death sentence. This lead to a serious under reporting of cancer rates.

    Blackadder, those Asians in the US are part of the group producing the US longevity numbers, so it isn't changing the situation. If Asians in the US had a high rate of keeping mummified relatives in their homes, as it turns out is the case in Japan, then there would be something of note.

  7. 1099 tax:

    the failure of the government in such cases, is not intentional, but there is always lack of co-operation from both the government as well as the commoners, humans living for 150 years is really interesting!!